When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s “hippies” were figures of amusement and the 1960s was all The Wonder Years. As a child you’re not told of the “dark side,” the true history, which may seem disturbing. When I was in college I met someone who did clue me in to some of the more “adult” aspects of the 1960s they had experienced through their recollections. For example, this man had been to the original Woodstock. While there he had taken a fancy to a young girl (underage), something her brother did not approve of. So he chased my friend down, smacked him upside the head, dragged him into the bushes, and raped him (also, I don’t recall seeing the interracial group sex protesting anti-miscegenation laws he told me about in Eyes on the Prize).
My own interest in history is of the more esoteric and antique kind. More Byzantium than the Beats. But as I grow older I am more and more aware of the lacunae in my knowledge, and the childlike vision of the 1960s which I unconsciously continue to hold. This is why more fully fleshed out pictures of the “Summer of Love,” such as can be found in this July’s Vanity Fair is of particular interest. In this way the past can become real, without the antiseptic tint of our media or the nostalgia of the baby boomers.
In many ways the cultural revolution of the 1960s made the world as it is today. But in many other ways, which we’d like to forget, the 1960s led to the excesses of the 1970s. For example, Retired Horace Mann Teacher Admits to Sex With Students:
The era had not yet come when a teacher would be viewed automatically with suspicion for inviting a student to his home. Sexual scandals in institutions like the Roman Catholic Church and Pennsylvania State University were still decades away. Mr. Lin himself said he had acted “occasionally out of impulse,” adding, “In those days, the ’60s and ’70s, things were different.”
Obviously self-serving. But from a profile of the North American Man-Boy Love Association (N.A.M.B.L.A., not NAMBLA):
It’s a story that began unremarkably enough. In 1978, NAMBLA was just another oddball sexual group proposing another oddball, radical philosophy: Kids should have more rights, particularly the right to have sex with whomever they please. Age should not be a consideration in anything, especially sex and love, and age-of-consent laws should be repealed. It was a more permissive time, a time before AIDS, and during NAMBLA’s infancy in Boston (it would later move its headquarters to New York), the group enjoyed the support of a vocal minority in the gay community, who believed that attacks on boy-lovers were veiled attacks on all homosexuals. To NAMBLA’s greater surprise, it found that even many straight people were willing to discuss adult-youth relationships without resorting to name calling and finger wagging.
“The ’70s were an incredible time,” says Socrates. “We were at a time when things were changing, when our voices could be heard. We began to believe the rhetoric that the revolution was coming, that we were going to create a free society.”
We live in an age when activists for the rights of homosexuals have become positively bourgeois. I’m skeptical that a prominent gay intellectual would do what Allen Ginsberg did and to some extent defend NAMBLA’s right to exist. “Progress” does “reverse.” The present is always privileged.
Addendum: Admission to Baby Boomers: “your music” will certainly echo through the generations when the last digital copies of ours have long been forgotten (with honorable exceptions).